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Interview: Layla Moran

A chat with the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon about Palestine, privilege, and of course, Brexit.

I meet Layla in St Anne’s College, right in the heart of her constituency Oxford West and Abingdon, where she has just spent the day on the ground campaigning. She’s all smiles as we sit down to talk. I ask her about her day, and what issues constituents have raised on the campaign trail.

 “It will surprise no one to know that Brexit comes top. This is an election that was caused because of the impasse of Brexit. We were a remain constituency, I was voted in to try and stop a hard Brexit and I think people see that I’ve been working really hard on that issue. Local issues come up too: school funding; I used to be a teacher, I’m education spokesperson for the party.”

I move on to asking her about the importance of the student vote and issues on education, which she addresses enthusiastically.

“We have to remember in the 2017 election, I quite unexpectedly overturned nearly 10,000 Conservative majority to win this constituency by 816 votes. That was at a time when lots of students did vote; that 816 could well be won or lost on if the students in this constituency decide to vote or not.”

Moran almost quit the Lib Dems over the tuition fee policy. I ask how the Lib Dem education policy has changed since the coalition and where she stands on it now.

“I’ve done student surgeries before and what I hear as top of student concerns is actually mental health. If tuition fees are a graduate tax why don’t we call it that and be more transparent about that.

“On the flip side I spend a lot of time talking to vice chancellors and they are incredibly worried that if you write off all student debt what happens to the budgets to deliver great courses. I think anyone who wants to go to university should find a way to be able to do that and we shouldn’t be artificially capping the numbers because there isn’t the money for places. I think tuition fees have been a positive thing in some ways. More and more disadvantaged students are now going to university and it is right that they should.”

I ask her whether the Lib Dems would consider a coalition this election, and why it happened in 2010.

“At the time we said we’d work with the largest party, but we didn’t predicate who that would be. This time it’s a bit different. For two reasons, one is called Boris Johnson and the other is Jeremy Corbyn. Boris Johnson is the worst of the two: I was never a Tory and I’m naturally centre-left leaning. I think those liberal values we all live by in our progressive society are not shared by Boris Johnson. 

“In terms of equalities, this is a man who called women in burqas “letter-boxes”. This is someone who I could never put into Number 10. On the flip side, Jeremy Corbyn needs to be honest about where he is on Brexit – we know he spent all of his parliamentary career essentially being a Brexiteer. Our leaders: pick a side!

“The other side to it is that many people will know I am half Palestinian. I actually applauded much of the work that Jeremy Corbyn has done on Palestinian rights over the course of his career. However, the fact that he hasn’t been able to contain people in his party who use the cover of Palestine to say anti-Semitic remarks, and hasn’t been able to get a grip on that, I think to myself if you can’t tackle this big issue in your own party then how would you do that as Prime Minister for other issues. I can’t, in all good conscience, use my vote to put either of them in Number 10. We have ruled out coalition with both of them.”

In an article in the Independent, Moran discussed the toxic culture in the House of Commons, and I raise it now, and alleged that Boris Johnson was encouraging hate crimes through his dismissal of death threats against female MPs.

“Yes, absolutely. In the past it has been associated with an old boys’ club; we’ve seen how the Oxford Union operates sometimes. I think there are some people in Parliament, Boris Johnson is absolutely one of them, that love shouting at each other across the floor of the house. I remember the first time I asked a PMQ I was actively shouted down by all sides of the house.

“Boris called the abuse female MPs face on social media ‘humbug’. When you say things like that you almost give permission for those people who want to hurt people to do that. 

David Cameron and Boris Johnson came from similar backgrounds, through the same education system and the same university. I ask if the coalition with the Tories a mistake.

“I voted for it when we had our special conference. What I was hearing from the electorate at the time was that that’s what they wanted. They didn’t want an outright conservative majority government and for us, we had always said we wanted to change the electoral system. At the time, we thought that this was our chance to put Lib Dem policies in place. We stopped them from doing some of the worst things that they wanted to do in coalition. At the time, it felt like that was what the country had asked us to do, and we needed to prove that coalition can work. We made mistakes in coalition but I’m not convinced that going into it in the first place was the wrong thing to do.

The political landscape in the last 10 years, and indeed the Liberal Democrats, have changed dramatically. Is ask if this election is just about Brexit.

“I think for a lot of people it will be. Everyone votes for different reasons. We go canvassing and you ask people what really matters to them and it varies a lot. But most people realise this is almost a pseudo vote for what I think should have actually happened: a referendum on whatever deal with the option to remain. I’m worried though that people who really are sick of Brexit will vote for Boris Johnson because of his “get Brexit done” slogan. That to me is the biggest lie that’s being told in this election. The deal is just a deal to do more deals: it’s the start of a process. Meanwhile with Labour you’re talking about renegotiation, another referendum, and more deals along the way. 

“Our stance of stop Brexit by revoking Article 50 means we’re standing up for what we believe in: we’ve never wanted to leave, and this is being honest with people about that. It’s also the only way to actually make Brexit stop.”

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